Copyright vs. Copywrong

Community of Fans In a recent case, a New York federal judge held that a book The Joy of Trek violated copyright of Paramount Pictures by using phrases from Star Trek shows such as “Live Long and Prosper” and “Make It So.” However, these words belonging to Vulcan Spok and Captain Picard respectively, became an integral part of Star Trekkers' vocabulary. To forbid Star Trek fans from using these phrases on their web sites would effectively deprive them from a part of their identity.

Copywrong bean The same is true about images, photographs, audio and video files. Sometimes, the most effective messages are conveyed with pictures and sounds rather than words. For example, the picture of Homer Simpson will be much more effective in communicating webmaster's loyalties, than a dry text commentary such as “I like Homer Simpson.” Could anyone imagine a Star Trek fan's website without a single picture of the spaceship, or X-Files web site without familiar faces of agents Scully and Mulder?

The truth is, popular shows have created communities of their devoted fans. Story plots, characters and images from the shows become an integral part of the fans' cultural universe. Fans need “elements” of the shows to express themselves and to communicate their interests and ideas to others. Law professor Rosemary Coombe writes that enforcement of intellectual property laws may prevent people from using the most powerful, prevalent, and accessible cultural forms to express identity, community, and difference.

In addition, the Internet is an interactive medium which makes use of graphics, audio and video materials. To require fans strip their sites off all images, audio and video materials pertaining to their favorite shows would turn these web sites into dull, text-only format. Copyright law would stand in the way of the technological progress, and this is not a desirable outcome. The same idea is expressed in a statement of the Online Freedom Federation (OFF): On the Internet, it's not reasonable to force one's expression to be limited to text commentary and hyperlinks to official sites.

In the attempt to secure fans' access to some copyrighted materials from their favorite shows, OFF offers a compromise with corporate copyright owners. OFF suggests that producers of shows should create a limited pool of public domain images available for use by fans. In return, fans would agree to attach to protected materials all the necessary copyright information and to urge other sites to do so.

What do you think about this proposal? Please, share your comments with me.

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Irina Dmitrieva